Michel Plasson

Agur Jaunak: Musiques Basques

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Seekers of traditional Basque music may be disappointed with Agur Jaunak: Musiques Basques, EMI's 1998 collection of polished arrangements for choir and orchestra. While the vigor, melancholy, and charm of the original folk melodies come through somewhat, these renditions are too prettified and seem more than a little artificial. Reflecting the influences of French and Spanish orchestral music, and partaking of Romantic, Impressionist, and neo-Classical styles, the scores are colorful, varied in mood, and modestly appealing. Yet any sense of a real Basque identity is hard to glean from the lavish, almost operatic treatments of Pablo Sorozabal and the sophisticated orchestrations of Jesús Guridi. Perhaps to come closest to unadulterated Basque music is through the simple a cappella pieces, such as the traditional song "Maitea, nun zira?" and Aita Donostia's "Hiru txito." Michel Plasson and the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse turn in solid performances, and the Sociedad Coral de Bilbao is a finely blended ensemble, capable of great subtlety and shading. In Francisco de Madina's "Aita Gurea" and Gabriel de Olaizola's "Haurtxoa sehaskan," soprano Olatz Saitua-Iribar is touching and wholly without affectation. However, the soloist and the ensembles are only adequately served by EMI's recording, which is sometimes muted and distant sounding.

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